skip to main content

Illustration of students studying climate change

Illustration of students studying climate change

Spring break offers students climate change research opportunity along Virginia coast

College spring break typically means students heading off for sun and fun, or home to see family and friends. For Sean Malloy, a Department of Physics major who just graduated, the weeklong break this past March was a chance to take part in climate change research on the Vir­ginia coast.

The Hampton Roads area, like much of the Virginia coast, is experiencing highly unusual sea level rises, as shown by data col­lected by state and federal environmental scientists. But data is missing in part of the town of Hampton itself. D. Sarah Stamps, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences, want­ed to remedy that gap. Hence, Stamps launched a “spring break camp” she called CODE-GEO — that’s short for Collecting Ob­servations for Data Analysis and Encoding in the Geosciences — in an effort to get undergraduate students to install new GPS stations that can detect land subsidence.

Malloy, who has been working in undergraduate research with Stamps in geosciences, was quick to sign-up. “Her passion for her work, her success in her field and her motivation have in­spired me in every aspect of my life,” Malloy said. “I learn in hands-on environments rather than classroom learn­ing. The CODE-GEO camp was almost like a laboratory classroom, where you can see the processes and apply them immediately to understanding complex concepts.” 

From left: Sarah Stamps, Assistant Professor in Virginia Tech's Department of Geosciences, Janelle Layton, Hampton University student, Kendra Dorsey, Hampton University student and Sean Malloy, a Virginia Tech senior studying physics on the roof of Turner Hall on the campus of Hampton University Thursday, March 8, 2018. They had completed installing a GPS device to gather data and were checking the connection on their computer.

D. Sarah Stamps and students on rooftop
From left, D. Sarah Stamps, Janelle Layton, Kendra Dorsey, and Sean Malloy, on the roof of Hampton University’s Turner Hall.

Stamps reached out to Zack Easton, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s Depart­ment of Biological Systems Engineering, and Bill Moore, professor at the historically black college Hampton Uni­versity on the coast. (The latter came at the encourage­ment of Gary Glesener, a fellow faculty member and diversity advocate in Geosciences.)

Stamps and her team installed GPS units at Hampton University and the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton. The team imme­diately started tracking data. The expedition team included Stamps, Malloy, undergraduate student Antonio De Cecco of the Virginia Tech Department of Biological Systems Engineer­ing, Virginia Tech Geosciences graduate stu­dent Josh Robert Jones, and two undergradu­ate students from Hampton University, Kendra Dorsey and Janelle Layton.

The student team made a research poster of their findings and presented it at an Institute for Creative Technology and Applied Sciences’ (ICTAS) Undergraduate Research Experience session at the Experiential Learning Confer­ence. (ICTAS provided funding for the expedi­tion.) 

Virginia Tech graduate student Josh Jones adjusts a GPS device after he and other students from Virginia Tech and Hampton University installed the device on the roof of Turner Hall on the campus of Hampton University Thursday, March 8, 2018. Jones is a graduate student in Virginia Tech's Department of Geosciences.

Geosciences graduate student Josh Robert Jones adjusts a GPS device
Geosciences graduate student Josh Robert Jones adjusts a GPS device after he and other researchers installed the device on a roof to track land subsidence.

“There is a great growth opportunity in con­ducting an undergraduate research program that uses GPS positioning observations to ad­dress societal issues like land subsidence and sea-level rise,” Stamps said. “Both Hampton University and Virginia Tech can now expand their programs using CODE-GEO as a model for future project development.”